Coach's Note By Lance Watson
Honest Skill Assessment Determines Opportunity to Race Faster
Were you Naughty or Nice over the holidays? Santa is already taking notes for 2015! I hope that some fitness was maintained, so that you are in a good place to build to higher levels of achievement in 2015. Now is a great time to take an inventory on where to go and what needs to happen next to ensure success for this year.
I will share some of these ideas and help you create your own inventory of items � some you may already do well, and some may need improvement - to be your very best.
SUPPORT NETWORK: Creating an emotional and spiritual support group is critical to navigating the hills and valleys of a sporting journey. This starts with your life partner and family. It is also important to have a supportive and inspiring coach and training peers. Include your friends, co-workers and church group in your journey. Surround yourself with the kinds of people who give you energy and believe in your goals. This is the foundation for a successful season!
TRAINING: The obvious area to dig into is your training. Look beyond getting to the pool, on your bike and out to the track. Many top athletes have an insatiable appetite for understanding how long term training periodization works. It takes 10 years to fully develop a top international athlete. These athletes seek out the best coaching sources and are always curious as to what their peers are doing and what the accomplished athletes in triathlon have done to get there. Consider whether you can clearly see a two-to-four year general plan for yourself (called a macrocycle). Map it out, working backwards from the end goal. Write down what you want to achieve and build, step by step, a game plan to get you there.
SPECIFIC SKILLS: Swimming, cycling and running is more than getting from A to B as fast as you can. Each "race within the race" is comprised of many variables and specific demands. Break down the 3 events in to their specific components, whether it is energy system demands or specific technical skills. Your skill set needs to be versatile and you need many physical tools.
For instance, in swimming, speed will help you to start out faster and find clear water, and give you a better chance to follow faster feet in a draft. It will allow you to surge and cover a gap that opens to another drafting group. Strength will help you in choppy conditions and ocean swimming, with sighting, and to deal with the added shoulder fatigue of a wetsuit. Threshold pace will allow you to maintain a good rhythm through the mid portion of the race, while endurance will help you hold a higher pace for longer, and start the bike portion with less fatigue.
Race cycling demands are race dependant, and athletes should evaluate how they time trial on the flats, maintaining rhythm in one gear at a fixed cadence. You may need to work on long steady climbing or short steep bursts. These are all components of strength, threshold, and anaerobic capacity. Sprint speed, your ability to tolerate lactic acid and bursts above threshold are useful for crowded non-drafting races, where you need to be able shift pace if you are having to constantly make passes and drop back out of the draft zone. Also, consider how you ride out of the water in triathlon from transition 1, in comparison to riding in training on fresh legs. Integrate your physiological needs with your areas for technical development within a bike emphasis mesocycle. Hill climbing and descending, cornering, braking and pedal stroke efficiency should be highlighted during specific mesocycles.
Running components need to be isolated in terms of technique and physiological strengths. Gait should be linear and in a forward motion, with foot strike underneath the centre of gravity. Posture is with a slight lean forward at the hips and shoulders, simultaneously. Check your run cadence. It should be in the 85-100 strides per minute range, counting off one foot strike. Look at your hill strength compared to flat rhythm running, and your endurance in ratio to threshold and sprint speed. These will all identify areas of need for focus.
Have yourself videoed on the bike and run as well, to look at position, and biomechanical efficiency at different paces and cadences.
COMPETITION SCHEDULE: The other critical piece in this long term planning is competition scheduling. The training should be geared towards your major events. For an international athlete this might be the 4 year plan into Olympics, or the 3 year plan to podium in Kona. The mesocycle blocks should work backwards from your major event. Outside of primary events, races should be chosen which complement your athletic development. In other words, choose races that support your development path, rather than picking races first and then trying to figure out how you will get ready for them.
EQUIPMENT: A student of the sport needs to stay current on the latest trends and research. Keep yourself abreast of the current sport equipment trends. Check out wetsuits with anti-fill sleeve cuffs, armpit to low back stretch panels and core stability bands, wind tunnel tested bike frames with integrated headsets at ridiculously light weights, wireless shifting, integrated aero bars, wireless power meters that mesh with GPS units and heart rate monitors; and sub-6 oz. seam free running shoes that are ion masked so they don't get heavy retaining water. Outdated equipment may handicap your performance. Be wary of implementing too much, too soon. It will be hard to isolate factors for specific performance gains or loss if there are too many confounding variables. Make sure and have a swim, bike, run or triathlon shop you can count on for reliable mechanics and properly fitting, current equipment.
NUTRITION: Food is the athlete's fuel. It is critical to monitor calories and fluid intake in training. Take note of how much you can eat or drink in different conditions, and under training stresses at different heart rates. The more data you can accumulate here, the better you can trouble shoot on race day as you will have familiar numbers in your head for shifting quantities relative to the demands of the day. There are many great articles, tools and research on sports nutrition. PowerBar has some really great resources on their site.
Outside of training, becoming familiar with the fresh, whole foods that feel good in your body and work for you. Nutrition choices and timing around training are critical to maximizing your sessions, recovery, and attaining an optimal body composition. Many elite athletes have taken blood tests to determine allergic responses, and are surprised to learn of different levels of previously unsuspected food allergies which inhibit digestion and recovery, and cause GI stress.
BODY MAINTENANCE: staying healthy long term is perhaps one of the biggest variables in attaining your lifetime peak as an endurance athlete. Listen to the aches and pains of your body and create a personal "alarm bell" list of items you absolutely do not train through. This list will likely be past recurring issues, your own personal "Achilles Heel". For some that may be a back issue or IT band injuries, and for others it may be susceptibility to illness. Look for patterns that break you down. Also, create a network of professionals to help you keep your body intact. Professionals in your circle should include a good sports doctor who understands your sport, a massage therapist, chiropractor, physiotherapist, a strength and flexibility consultant (for lifting and core strength), nutritionist, and yoga or palates instructor.
MENTAL TRAINING: The mind makes the body go. A strong mind is the deal breaker at the highest level of sport. Many athletes mentally rehearse organically. To take your mind power to another level, structure your mental training, and identify your strengths and weaknesses. All athletes should consult a sport psychologist at some point in their career, and many of the best athletes integrate a sport psychologist into their high performance professional network, as a part of their training regime.
Create emotional goals and focus goals for practice. Mentally rehearse how you want to feel and how you want the practice to transpire. Always be realistic. Create strategies to quickly refocus when things are not going according to plan, or if you are thrown a curve ball.
Mental training should be periodized as well. Early season is about a positive training environment and a consistent emotional zone. As you approach race season it should shift to increased emphasis on visualizing technical expertise and mental preparation for dealing with hard efforts. Learn how to create race course simulations in your local training environment, or travel to the location of your big event to train on the course, and create strong images of effort and expertise on each individual section of the race course.
Great athletes ask many questions, read voraciously and keep their ears open. One of the intriguing aspects of triathlon is there is a bottomless well of information and knowledge to accumulate. Create an inventory of your sporting life and environment, acknowledge what you do well, and embrace your areas for improvement as the great challenge of sport.
January is a great time to get a coach to help you navigate all these items and formulate a game plan to finish a long distance event, or qualify for a championship event!
LifeSport head coach Lance Watson has coached a number of Ironman, Olympic and age-group Champions over the past 25 years. He enjoys coaching athletes of all levels. Join Lance to tackle your first triathlon or perform at a higher level.